Compañía Azucarera Central Reforma 8
Whyte System Type: 2-8-0 Consolidation
Builder: American Locomotive Company. Cooke Works, Patersen, New Jersey
Cylinders (diameter x stroke in inches): 18 x 22
Weight on Drivers (in lbs.): 106,500 (also reported as 106,000)
Remarks: Locomotive has parts missing; with repairs, it could be operated.
Lowville and Beaver River Railroad 2-8-0 Locomotive No. 1923
History: American railroad locomotive builders had by the turn of the century obtained a sizable share of the export market for locomotives in certain parts of the world, although they faced stiff competition from various English, French, and German firms. American locomotives dominated Latin America, with notable exceptions of Argentina, Brazil, and to some extent Chile, and went to locations as diverse as Japan, Formosa, China, Manchuria, Russia, and Australia.
On October 5, 1920, the American Locomotive Company prepared a set of specifications for a 2-8-0 Consolidation-type Locomotive No. 8 for a Cuban sugar plantation railroad, that of the Compañía Azucarera Central Reforma. It was a pretty little engine with clean lines equipped with a Pyle-National headlight, a steel, horizontal slat pilot, a steel cab, and a second sand dome behind the steam dome to feed sand to the rear drivers. The little standard gauge engine had piston valves and Walschaert valve motion. Unfortunately, after the company had completed the locomotive and photographed it in its new builder's paint job, the deal fell through. Failure to ship the locomotive to Cuba has been attributed to a Cuban revolution. Perhaps. But the February Revolution in which the Liberal Party tried to overthrow President Mario Garcia Menocal had occurred in 1917, and all that took place in 1920 was a disputed election from which the Liberal candidate, Jose Miguel Gomez, withdrew, prematurely, some thought. The period following World War I in fact encompassed prosperity and rapid growth in the Cuban sugar industry. So the reasons that Locomotive No. 8 never went to Cuba to roll over the rails of the Compañía Azucarera Central Reforma remain far from clear. Nevertheless, the little engine intended for Cuba gathered dust for the next two and a half years awaiting a home.
Home for the orphan turned out to be only one state away from her place of birth at the Cooke Works in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1923, the Lowville and Beaver River Railroad, a short line in New York State's North Country just west of the Adirondacks, from which the Beaver River drained, sought a new locomotive as a result of the same postwar economic boom that made the failure of the Cuban company to complete purchase of its locomotive so inexplicable. American Locomotive had to remove the oil burner from the firebox and the oil tank from the tender and convert the grates to bum coal fuel, but once the company had completed that work the New York short line had adopted a spiffy little engine that would serve until the end of steam.
There seemed little rhyme or reason to the railroad's numbering of its first three engines, Nos. 10, 12, and 51, which were all second hand; the Lowville and Beaver River may simply have continued to use the numbers the engines had acquired while operating for previous owners. In 1912, however, the Lowville and Beaver River ordered its first brand new locomotive, a 4-6-0, from the American Locomotive Company's works in Schenectady, New York, and at this time management made a decision that the year of purchase would henceforth be the locomotive's road number, so the new 4-6-0 became Locomotive No. 1912. In 1923, when the company decided to purchase the orphaned Compañía Azucarera Central Reforma Locomotive No. 8, management decided it would become Lowville and Beaver River Locomotive No. 1923. The company would subsequently follow the same practice with its two 44-ton General Electric diesel-electric locomotives in 1947 and 1950. (The latter, though built in 1950, was not actually acquired until 1963.)
Locomotive No. 1923 would have few more miles over which to operate in New York than on a Cuban plantation, perhaps less, for its new owner possessed only 10.44 miles of main track, plus the usual proportion of sidings, in this case 3.19 miles in the aggregate. Supposedly the idea for the railroad occurred in the local businessmen's club, the Lowville Club, either over a card game in the back room or simply in a discussion. Some unknown gentleman raised the issue of a railroad to connect Lowville with Croghan, New York, where it would connect with the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. One thing led to another, and soon all present agreed that a railroad was just the ticket. Most prominent among them, coal dealer G.A. Blackmon, who incidentally had built the Lowville Club in which they were meeting, took the business in hand and on August 3, 1903, formed the Lowville and Beaver River Railroad Company.
First he collected an investment of $11,000 from a few friends and business colleagues. Then he went out by horse and buggy into the farm country north of the Black River, where he told farmers that the railroad would make shipping milk to New York City easier and increase their milk receipts. "Why, it'll haul all your produce and cattle out, and any goods you buy practically to your doorstep. The price is $100 per share. How much shall I put you down for?" After several weeks of this, Blackmon had $60,000 in subscriptions to stock. Then he went after and obtained another $50,000 from businessmen and townspeople in Lowville and vicinity. By February 24, 1924, the initial offer of capital stock had all been taken, though the company would later have to increase the capitalization to cover construction costs.
That spring, C.E. Brownell surveyed two routes and that summer James T. Campbell won the contract for construction of the line. Despite labor troubles, the need to construct a long trestle over the Black River flats, and the subsequent death of Campbell, the building of the railroad continued through 1904 and 1905 until the construction crews completed it in January 1906. The railroad had the usual ups and downs, but began paying dividends on common stock in 1925 and supposedly continued with a lapse of but one year until the late 1950s. A possibly apocryphal tale has it that during one of the years of the Great Depression, the Lowville and Beaver River was the only railroad in the country to pay a dividend. That meant that except during her first two years of service on the road, and one year during the Depression, Locomotive No. 1923 had the pleasure of working for a profitable little company.
It was not a company without misfortune, however, and the Lowville and Beaver River suffered its share of derailments and accidents. More serious, around 1938 during a bitter cold North Country winter, the railroad's engine house burned down with No. 1923 in it, the fire undoubtedly melting babbitt metal and possibly some of the brass and other parts. With much welding, sheet metal work, and new brass, the company was able to reclaim the scorched locomotive, though four years later a visitor would remark about the Consolidation "still bearing heat marks on her tender-plate from a fire which nearly destroyed her years."
No. 1923 continued to haul passengers until January 10, 1947, when the railroad discontinued the service, but the locomotive continued to haul freight for farmers, and to serve paper mills and a block factory at Croghan.
In May 1947 the railroad took delivery of a maroon and yellow center-cab 44-ton diesel-electric locomotive built in the General Electric Company's shops in Erie, Pennsylvania, and in tried and true Lowville and Beaver River tradition, given the road number 1947. The arrival of the diesel meant the sale for scrap of Locomotive No. 1912 and the retiring of 2-8-0 No. 1923 to standby service. For four months in 1954 the new diesel received a major overhaul, during which time No. 1923 again hauled freight trains up and down the Lowville and Beaver River Railroad on a daily basis. The railroad's historian, Keith F. Maloney, reminisced about that summer interlude:
After being rebuilt by General Electric, Diesel No. 1947 resumed handling the Lowville and Beaver River's freight business, and Steam Locomotive No. 1923 returned to the engine house, stored serviceable again until further need.
That came two and a half years later. Keith Maloney recalled:
That was the steam locomotive's last appearance on this New York State short line. Retired again to standby service, in June 1964 the locomotive was sold to F. Nelson Blount for his Steamtown Foundation for the Preservation of Steam and Railroad Americana for $2,000 f.o.b. Lowville, New York, plus $250 for a number of spare parts and $12.00 for the rental of a scoop to load the parts in the tender. The locomotive apparently moved to Bellows Falls, Vermont, in October of that year.
This little postwar Consolidation represents a fairly common wheel arrangement of freight locomotive during the latter decades of the 19th century and down to the end of the era of steam locomotives in the 20th century. Nearly 150 of them survive in the United States (not counting narrow gauge variations), far more than any other single type of locomotive. It is, in that sense, the most common wheel type of locomotive to survive. Appropriately and proportionately, Steamtown has several of this type in its collection, including Illinois Central Locomotive No. 790, Maine Central Locomotive No. 519, Rahway Valley No. 15, and Lowville and Beaver River Railroad No. 1923. None of these four locomotives is a duplicate of the others except in terms of wheel arrangement, for each has unique and distinctive features. Technologically, Lowville and Beaver River Railroad No. 1923 is probably the least interesting; however, its unique history provides an opening to interpret the export trade in American-built locomotives, so the locomotive is not without importance to the Steamtown collection.
Condition: Lowville and Beaver River Railroad Locomotive No. 1923 reportedly is a worn-out locomotive not suitable for restoration to operable condition. It is, however, appropriate for "cosmetic" restoration to its historic appearance.
Recommendations: A small report should be completed on the locomotive. The report should attempt to ascertain the history of the Compañía Azucarera Central Reforma, a little bit about its railroad, and why it failed to complete purchase of the locomotive. The rest of the report should deal with the history and physical history of Locomotive No. 1923, including an attempt to find a contemporary account of the roundhouse fire, circa 1938, that damaged the engine. The report should then recommend steps needed to restore the locomotive as an exhibit engine. The engine should in part be interpreted to represent the export trade in locomotives practiced by major American locomotive-building firms.
Guide to the Steamtown Collection. Bellows Falls, Vt.: Steamtown Foundation, n.d. (ca. 1973). [See Item 35.]
Lewis, Edward A. American Short Line Railway Guide. Strasburg: The Baggage Car, 1975: 64, 199.
Lowville & Beaver River Railroad." The Short Line, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1977): 9.
Lowville & Beaver River Railroad." The Short Line, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1990): 9.
Maloney, Keith F. "Lowville & Beaver River Railroad; Survival of a Shortline . . . 65 years of North Country Railroading on the Lowville & Beaver River." Chapter 4 in Rails in the North Woods by Richard S. Allen, William Gove, Keith F. Maloney, and Richard F. Palmer. Sylvan Beach: North Country Books, 1978: 111-148, 201, 202.
Poor's Manual of Railroads, 1920. New York: Poor's Publishing Company, 1920: 628, 629.
"Steam News Photos." Trains, Vol. 25, No. 6 (Apr. 1965): 14.
Steamtown Foundation files. Correspondence regarding sale of locomotive to F. Nelson Blount, Annual Locomotive Inspection and Repair Reports, Specifications for Locomotive No. 1923.
Wallin, R.R. "The Shortline Scene. Lowville & Beaver River Roster." Extra 2200 South, The Locomotive Newsmagazine, Vol. 7, No. 10 (May 1969): 29.
Last Updated: 14-Feb-2002